When your parent is elderly, they are already dealing with many examples of loss. How they cope with loss is essential to their mental health.
They may be facing a loss of their own personal mobility, or the loss of independence and their ability to live in their own home. Often, vulnerable senior citizens also face the loss of their spouse, of lifelong friends, and even adult children. Here is some insight into how you can help your loved one to deal with the loss of someone they care deeply about.
Unfortunately, aging brings with it an increased frequency of loss. As friends and family age, senior citizens can find themselves surviving siblings, spouses and lifelong friends. As an empathetic loved one, you can help them to cope and deal with the stress and sadness they may feel.
Empathy and understanding are two of the most important things we can offer to someone who is grieving. Although we can never fully understand someone else’s depth of grief, we can voice our respect and acknowledgement of their emotions. If you have ever lost a close friend, you can likely empathize more readily; but if not, simply imagine what that may feel like.
Also remember that although you may have lost a friend or even several, elderly individuals have lost many people they love. It is, in fact, a regular occurrence once a certain stage of life is reached. When a senior citizen lives in assisted living and has made friends, coping with loss may become an essential skill for navigating the loneliness that losing a close friend can entail.
Remember, not only will they miss that person, but the thought of “that could have been me” is a strong reality in their minds.
Help Them Cope with Their Emotions
Grief shows up differently for everyone, but understanding some key points can assist you in helping your loved one to cope through these difficult times.
• Grieving someone close to us is deeply personal because it changes how we live our daily lives. The person who shared lunch, discussed the news of the day, or watched football on Sundays is now gone – as is the person we were when we were with them. This changes the person grieving, because their life has been irrevocably changed. It is common for people to feel a loss of a facet of their own identity when they lose someone special.
• Because we are uncomfortable, or looking for ways to cope with loss, we can sometimes try to minimize the pain. A loss of a friend, we reason, is not as important as the loss of a spouse, for instance. Also, as an individual grows older, society may impose a sense of “that’s just life.” Even if death is acknowledged as a part of life, it is important to realize that by minimizing the experiential grief in any way, we are encouraging the grieving person to “get over it”. This tends to make people shut down, suffer alone, or try to move on before they have processed their sadness. Allowing them to safely and freely express emotion with no parameters legitimizes the pain and shares the burden.
• Your mom or dad always comforted you, so the role reversal can be awkward for everyone involved. The best way to deal with it is to talk about it, express your love for them, and that you wish to honor their love and support for you over the years by returning that support. However, be sure not to treat them as a subordinate or a child in that process.
• Ask your parents how they would like to honor the memory of their loved one, and help them to accomplish these wishes. This may be visits to a gravesite on occasion, or helping them to create a memory book they can look at when they feel lonely. If your loved one has experienced a lot of loss due to a large network of friends and family, try to find a meaningful way for them to memorialize their own “life well lived” through remembering those important to them.
At A Banyan Residence, we understand and are empathetic to all of the challenges of growing older. If your loved one is in assisted living, ask us about how to best support them though these times and cope with loss. It is our passion to ensure a full and happy life for our residents, as much as is possible.